The Great Antidote – Shoshana Weissmann

By The CGO

Published:

On this episode of The Great Antidote podcast with Juliette Sellgren, she is joined by guest Shoshana Weissmann. In their discussion, Juliette and Shoshana cover occupational licensing reform, quiet research, Section 230, and how to Twitter.

 

Guest Bio

Shoshana Weissmann manages R Street’s social media, email marketing and other digital assets. She also works on occupational licensing reform, social media regulatory policy, Section 230 and other issues, and has written for various publications, including The Wall Street Journal and USA Today.

Shoshana most recently managed digital communications for Opportunity Lives, a group that highlighted positive stories and policy solutions. Before that, she managed social media and wrote for The Weekly Standard. Earlier in her career, she managed digital communications for the America Rising PAC, where her strategy was highlighted in a piece that appeared in The New York Times.

She is on the board of The Conservation Coalition and a member of the Federalist Society’s Regulatory Transparency Project’s state and local working group.

She lives in Washington, D.C. and has a stuffed sloth named James Madisloth, and she enjoys the Snapchat hot dog.

 

Episode Transcript

Juliette: Hi, welcome back. It is my great pleasure to welcome Shoshana Weissman or Senator Shoshana, as many call her, who is a Senior Manager of Digital Communications and Policy Fellow at R Street. She works on occupational licensing reform social media regulatory policy section 230 and all of that good stuff. She has a huge presence on Twitter and I have heard her introduced as “The Bad Boy Entertainment of the Regulator Death Row”. If you live in DC and you ask people if they know Shoshana, you will soon find out that everyone knows her and everyone loves her. The words that frequently come up when you ask about her are entertaining, sloth, and best rainbow hair in town. Welcome, Shoshanna.

Shoshana Weissman: Oh my gosh. Who sent those things? I never hear stuff like… I mean, I hear stuff like that. But thank you like, oh my God. Also, send those people my love. That is so sweet.

Juliette: I definitely will. So, jumping right in. What is the most important thing that people my age or in my generation should know that we do not?

Shoshana: Are you thinking from policy or are you thinking like personal or just like living your best life?

Juliette: Anything. Whatever you think is best.

Shoshana: Oh man. I mean, I think here is one thing that is really important. Like if you are very type A and like OCD about everything and always concerned how people see you, comment down like know that those are good instincts that will serve you well. Just to be very aware of stuff, but you do not need to freak out so much about it. But if you are very type B and you do not think about those things at all, do think about them. I think we all kind of like need to be our own Devil’s Advocate and like moderate ourselves, because I am very much too type A like OCD like, “Oh my gosh, what are people thinking about me?” And all that. And now I am like, “Okay, no one cares.” In like a good way like things are chill, but I know some type B people who I am like, “How are you doing this?” And not thinking like people are going to be like, “What the heck?” So be your own best Devil’s Advocate.

Juliette: That is really good advice. And meanwhile, you think people do not care, they also think you are the best rainbow hair in town. So really you are giving a good impression and you are doing all the right things.

Shoshana: Thank you. But you know what? It is funny. I got into politics and worried that the hair would turn people off and it did at first but in DC like I started asking my boss was like, can I dye part of my hair again? And they are like, “We do not care.” and then Mike and I dye all of it. I was like, “Well, if this hurts my career I will dye it back.” I will see. But people loved it and I am like, “Oh, so you like me?” Like I can just be me and like you guys are cool. And I do not think people realize like just being yourself is a really positive thing sometimes for your career too.

Juliette: That is a really good thing to keep in mind. I, silly. Okay, so kind of moving, will kind of in that direction. So on Twitter, where people feel like they have to either be the smartest in the room or and the meanest in the room in order to get followers. Your approach has radically different which is super inspiring and it is great. You have no problem expressing your undying admiration for people and sometimes even public figures. For example, your massive intellectual crush on Justice Don Willett. Among other things, you have called him a judicial unicorn and you have written that “Don Willett is the Twitter conservative judge, America has been waiting for.” Can you tell us why you think this judge, who by the way, seems to share your taste for corny jokes is so great and what is his judicial philosophy?

Shoshana: Yeah, so he is amazing and I love him and he is my angel, like yeah. It is like, I do not know, people yell at public figures all day and there is nothing wrong with that like you should sometimes, I do it too, but people do not take the time to like be nice and like being nice is how you get ahead and not even just from like a utility standpoint but if you have positive feelings about someone, it makes them feel better knowing it and then they will want to work with you knowing like, “Oh, they are chill. That is good.” So, I think, thinking about it that way is just really important with Willett in particular, I remember bonding over memes with him, gosh, back in like 2013. I did not know his judicial philosophy at the time, but I was like, “Oh, he is a nice guy. He is funny.” So, we became friendly. I met him at the Federalist Society Convention. I think for the first time back in 2014 and I was like, “Oh my gosh, he is here.” And like I was so excited like, “Oh the super nice guy…” And he was just so down to earth and kind and we had stayed friends to this day. But we share the same judicial philosophy which I found out in 2014 when he had this “Do not thread on me…” eyebrow threading case which was about saying that you cannot just ban eyebrow threading for no reason like a state like basically unenumerated rights or rights.

Rights that are not written down our rights. But so many times the courts just pretend like if the rights are like in the Bill of Rights and a couple of other rights for no reason we decide are super important they get protection the rest. Well, there has as long as there is some potential reason called rational basis that the government could have regulated this thing. We do not need to prove it. We just need to get to pretend. So, you basically encourage the government to lie and it is crap. It is really crap and it is not a theory that I think is the founders intended. I do not think it is how things are supposed to work. If each branch is supposed to be a check on one another but he liked me believes that judges are supposed to say, “Hey, you know, why do you implement this?” Let us see. There was an epidemic of harm with eyebrows threading that was unlicensed, you know, totally go for it. Like if the government is actually fixing a constitutional problem with a constitutional means but they just sometimes outlaw professions without licenses for no reason, no harm, no evidence of harm, and he is like, “Hey, we are not doing this, there is no reason you can you the government has to ban eyebrow threading without a license.”

So, I was reading it and I am like, “Oh, he is with me.” and I was so excited. I remember messaging him being like, “Oh my gosh. I did not know you were a judicial engagement proponent.” Which is what the theory is called. So I was just over the moon that not only was he fun and kind and nice and silly but like we really agreed intellectually, so I was just so happy and he challenges a lot of norms and the judiciary from like his Twitter which unfortunately he does not have anymore. I think he is trying to keep the peace with colleagues and like, you know, not trying to be the center of attention all the time. Unfortunately, and now when he is a Fifth Circuit Judge, it is a little bit harder than when he was a Supreme Court Judge in Texas, but now a lot of Judge’s tweet because of him and like he just has such a positive impact on so many people who he mentors and he is just kind too and like he is just an all-around wonderful person. He loves his family. Like I know that’s a dorky thing to say on all politicians do or whatever.

But I will be at conferences and then he will step outside to FaceTime with his family and it is so sweet. He is always checked in on me and like other people, he is friends with. He is just a really good guy and not all my intellectual heroes are going to be the great people but he and particular is and whether it is him or other people who I think really highly of, I want to share with the world. Here is why I think so highly of this person. We do not share our positive stuff enough with each other. And sure I yell and I make fun of people and stuff but like, you know sharing positive stuff is super, super underrated, and badly needed in an era like now.

Juliette: That is, I do not know. That is so cool. I have just been like smiling so hard this whole time because it is just so cute. I feel like now I am like have some sort of crush on this guy. I do not know. He is that I agree with that philosophy. It makes sense. I feel like rationally thinking, yes. If you do not have any reason, you do not have any proof, why would you do? I feel like there is no basis for that legislation to come into play. So kind of going in the direction of Supreme Court and judicial things. I read on your personal page that you have turned every past Supreme Court confirmation hearing into sortable and searchable data. Can you explain why you did this and why it is so important?

Shoshana: It is really bad. This is probably going to be the nerdiest thing I did. I am very good at Excel, but I am not a master. So it took me about 200 hours. In fairness, a lot of that was cleaning the data. The reason though because like I said, I care about unenumerated rights and that they are codified in the 9th and 14th amendments. So, I kind of wanted to see like, I wonder how often they think mentioned in Supreme Court confirmation hearings and I am like, “I do not want to go back and forth between all these PDF documents riddled with errors. Like how about I agree to database?” So, like other researchers can use it too. Because I just kind of wanted to know something, I spent 200 hours of my free time doing that. I learned a lot about the confirmation hearings, about senators in the past cleaning the data and there is just so much you can learn. I mean, things used to be a lot less partisan honestly, and I know that is a cliche to say and I think sometimes that feeling is wrong when people think, “Oh, it was so much better in the past.”

But in this case, you really see in the past. Like you know, Democrats would say nice things about Republican nominees and the reverse and they would mean it. They would grill them and they would ask him questions, but they did not go crazy like they do today. They did not try to make it like a media spectacle and it was really interesting to watch that and to watch that change over time largely with like the Bush and Obama years. That is when you really, really started to see a change and I know there was like stuff with pork and there were definitely some stuff in his hearing that I did not feel comfortable with but I honestly think things are so much worse today. But it is kind of interesting watching too. A lot of senators now have been confirming judges or not confirming judges on the Supreme Court for decades. So seeing the way they have changed what their questions are changed who asks what. It used to be mostly Democrats asking about unenumerated rights and these days it is largely Republicans and it is just kind of interesting to watch that.

There is just a ton of stuff you can learn. You can search for any issue, any speaker, any chairman, and kind of compare everything. I just sometimes use it for fun but it is really like I honestly learned a lot just going through cleaning and putting together the data both in Excel, but also I learned a lot about the Senate and the justices. So I think sometimes just listening and watching and reading history is really important. We do not have enough of those quiet moments now and I do not think society encourages it so much but quiet research is super, super underrated and for me just for personal gratification.

Juliette: That is I do not know. It is so cool just to think that all of that can be turned into numbers something else that makes sense. If you do not have time to exactly go back and look at all which does seem a worthwhile way to spend your time because observing how they act, how they interact with each other. That shift is interesting. I think it is cool that you did that.

Shoshana: Oh, thank you. It is not cool, it is nerdy but it is cool. I like doing this kind of stuff. I do not know. I also just do not like having limits. So even if I do not know something, I will often teach myself how to do something just because I want to know how to do stuff and a lot of times I will learn something in some spot and like learn how to apply that to another spot. So I do not know. It is fun also because I am a digital nerd and Supreme Court nerd and policy nerd.It was kind of cool to marry all of my nerdiness, you know?

Juliette: As a nerd, I appreciate that. I want to talk to you about your big fight of the moment the intense and bipartisan called to repeal section 230. I did an entire episode on Section 230 with Matt Feeny at Cato about sex. Yeah, he is great. He’s I learned so much and I think everyone learned so much but can you remind us what section 230 is and why it is in the eye of the storm right now?

Shoshana: So all section 230 says is that if someone posts on someone else’s thing the person whose thing they posted on is not liable. The person who said the thing is already liable and they are the only one who is liable. So if I tweet something illegal on Twitter, you could sue me if it related to you. If Twitter posts a Facebook comment like on Facebook, Twitter is liable because it is Twitter’s content. If Twitter post a warning label on Trump’s tweet, Twitter still liable, and if someone at Facebook posts a comment on the New York Times op-ed page like a comment underneath Facebook is liable. So it always maintains what we have the speaker is liable the place where they post is not liable. It is simple enough and it is how it things should work because like, you know, if you are a small platform you probably do not have resources to moderate. And, especially like newer platforms do not have those kinds of resources and sometimes people post awful things. So they, you know, if they post something illegal the platform should not be liable because it does not know what is there. And even if you know, it is there it is not easy to tell if something is illegal. Consider is that like things you know that stuff goes through courts if it’s liable if it’s some other illegal kind of content or court decides.

Some guy moderating website is not a judge and is not a court. He does not know how to do that kind of stuff and sometimes judges will disagree so it is not fair to put that liability on a platform for doing something just Herculean like that is insane. So that is one of the things and then even Facebook and Twitter. Yeah, they have tons and tons of sap they also have hundreds and hundreds of millions of posts. There was no way they can look at everything and get everything right every time and before we had 230 courts basically said, “Hey if you do not moderate, that’s cool. There is no way you have knowledge of the content so you are not liable. But if you try to keep your website family-friendly and you get rid of crap on it, and then there is some crap that you miss while you are trying to get rid of it. You are liable for it because we assume you saw it”. That seems that does not make any sense. The people doing the right thing get punished and beyond that just like everyone has different needs. All trails is a platform. I love where users it is like Wikipedia for hiking basically and there is also common so it is all user content.And, sometimes I’ll go hiking and I’ll check, “Hey are there bears out today?” and like in the comments I’ll be like, “Yeah, a bear chase me” and I am like, okay, I am renting some bear spray like that is really helpful. And that means I do not die in the woods that day.

On Zocdoc you can review doctors and like honestly I am I have tons of diseases and for years, I could not find good doctors who believe me. Who would try things with me who like cared but now I can just go look up reviews and they will say like, “Hey this doctor did not listen” or “This doctor was great. We work through everything, they have been trying different treatments. I feel listened to.” and I am like, okay and because of that I get way better doctors. I spend way less money. And doctors are incentivized to want to do the right thing and to be helpful and then I recommend those doctors so other people can find them. But without 230 online reviews have hecklers veto because all the doctor has to say is that is liable take it down or will sue you. Do not take it down. It is not worth it. So all reviews will be positive or fake.

Tripadvisor said that they have to remove one out of every 20 comments and they have millions and millions and millions of concept of comments. So that’s just like a lot to do and it is not we can not expect perfection, especially because oftentimes two different moderators will disagree with one another. So 230 means that our free speech can work online and that if we do not like one platform, we just go to another. The reason that it has been targeted largely is because of Donald Trump. He is not the only reason but he is a big reason. He has actually used 230 as a defense in the past for legal cases against him which is really funny. But he was basically meant that people were saying mean things about him online and that like he did not get to keep all of his content up and content supporting him up. That is the whole reason that all started and then conservatives wanted his support. So then they went after 230. A lot of them do not understand it or they know better and it is not accurate or they’re trying to solve something that is not a problem or that is actually a problem with the First Amendment in many cases.

Not liking moderation practices is a First Amendment issue. Like you do not like the way people are handling speech and it is their right to handle that speech in the way they want. On the right, they want to compel speech. On the left, they want them to take more speech down. Sometimes there is a little crossover but it is really dangerous. We should not have government telling us like what speech they like and do not like. It is really, really dangerous to get into this and hearings lately have been really, really awful. I mean for the past year, but now they are going after cable companies to and it is like look if you are going to do this towards everyone it is clearly not about bad stuff online. It is about speech you do not like and that is dangerous.

Juliette: Yeah, I mean, I think your examples about things that are available because of section 230 like that website for doctors and the hiking website that is kind of things that people do not understand because often when it is explained, you do not get examples and so you do not know what you gain from it. You only hear oh, well this bad thing was said.

Shoshana: Yeah. No, you are right. I think it is important to tie real-world examples in where possible. There is definitely policy areas it is hard to do that with but if you want people to get why a thing matters, you really gotta tie it to their lives like you are saying.

Juliette: When I think about section 230 and kind of the calls to repeal it. And as you said kind of how it is more they just do not like free speech instead of the fact that it is online. It kind of makes me think of oh well, so what if the internet was a physical space like what if it was an actual place where we could all like stand like a house? If I said something in a house, they can not do anything. They like that doesn’t happen, you know. But if I said it online it just I do not know. That is how I think about it. I don’t know.

Shoshana: Yeah, I think you make a really good point there too, especially because like stuff happens in email all the time, like lots of legal stuff happens over email and then you know, those emails get like submitted to records and like go to court but they are never mad at gmail. All right, you know because if you are like gonna flip out like a lot of this is just flipping out at gmail the same kind of logic or aol.com whatever it is. It is like no one blames an email service and they do moderate but people do not understand that like it works the same as just were seeing this other stuff. And also like when if it is in a physical space like no one is going to sue someone for doing something illegal in their store when there is no way to know that the thing was illegal or that it was even happening. You know, we sue bookstores for carrying books that somehow had unlawful content in it. But then we are like, “Hey, this is dumb because bookstores are not going to want to do their thing anymore”.

Juliette: Plus, it is not really I mean, I do not know really how much they kind of moderate the content in bookstores. I bet it varies from store to store and kind of the scale of the store. But imagine being tasked with reading every single book and there are like a million books in the store.

Shoshana: Yeah, exactly.

Juliette: It is the author who wrote it, right? It is not the bookstore, but I mean it is a little bit different but it is kind of a similar idea. something I have been thinking about a lot is kind of the difference between newspapers and platforms in regards to section 230. Can you explain that difference to us?

Shoshana: So um, so yeah, basically it is like it is just a speaker of the content because the law does not say platform versus publisher. It is just like user content. So the New York Times op-ed page is, you know, published content that stuff that is like the speaker is the New York Times but the comments underneath are user content. So those are ones that like the New York Times would not be liable for. And that literally that is the only distinction there is a user content versus the corporate or other speaker content.

Juliette: Makes sense. You had a funny piece recently called Jeffrey Toobin should be liable for his big reveal not Zoom and as a way of background Toobin is or actually, he was a CNN and New Yorker famed legal analyst who was caught masturbating on a Zoom call with New Yorker colleagues. Apparently, he did not realize his camera was on, oops. The incident made quite a splash and it was kind of the Talk of the Town. There were a lot of jokes. A lot of Twitter memes as one can come to expect now. However, you saw this as an opportunity to explain to people what would happen if this took place in a world where section 230 had been repealed. Can you tell us about, what the consequences of doing so would be?

Shoshana: Yeah, so I think through you know, if I if any big story happens, I tied to my policy areas. I also once had a story about a year ago where it was found that Mark Zuckerberg had someone blow-dries armpits and I mentioned that he has hair in his armpits that is actually illegal under most state laws that require an occupational license to blow dry hair and it does not specify head hair. It could be body hair according to the writing of the statute and similarly in this case Zoom is a platform. They moderate, they do not have to moderate to be a platform. But some people are, “Oh, they would be fine without 230” and no they wouldn’t, they do moderate. They need the protection and they had no way he was going to masturbate on a work call. Like there is, they were not made aware of it. He is not like oh, hey guys, I am planning on this. They did not, you know Zoom had no idea.

So when he does that on a work call if there is going to be lawsuits, you know assuming that there is some legal action. It should be against him instead of Zoom. It is the exact same thing with any platform when something illegal happens. There is going to be lawsuits. It should not be against a platform. It should be against the guy who did think unless the person masturbating was a Zoom employee which would be different. But short of that, it is you know, it is the exact same thing and I do not think people saw it that way at first they were like, “Oh, well, that is different” but it is not. You have a lot of cases where people are like, “Oh, this is a different case. This is something else.” and it is not it is the exact same thing and I can not resist an opportunity to tie genitalia to my favorite policy areas.

Juliette: And I do not know. I think it is a really good way. Like when I came across it I was like, “Oh perfect!” like this relates to what I am interested in somehow. Um, but I do not know it is just part of me thinks that the fact that it was Zoom and you use Zoom. That is such a good example. Well because it is live you can not moderate things in real time as well as you can when it just stays there like on Twitter. So I would think it is a better example than other examples if you are trying to explain to people. I do not know. This is just my thought.

Shoshana: Yeah, I mean think about it this way to was out 230. You go back to the moderators” dilemma where if they moderate nothing, they are not liable or probably not liable and or if they moderate so much that they are comfortable with what is on their platform. Very little speech to get through but they are not worried so much about liability. Like those are the ways to avoid risk. And if you in that case Zoom would not moderate. You know, there is I think with some platforms there is some debate but I do not think Zoom would choose to moderate and then we get back to Chatroulette which was the famous app that kids use. Like 10 years ago my friends and I were on it and eventually it became all penises like even how hard had an episode about it. I am not sure if they moderated or not. But like they definitely were not like fighting all these weird guys just showing their crotches on Chatroulette and like that is not family friendly. That is not safe. That is not good unless that is the point of the platform but it was not at the very least how it started. It was supposed to be a way to meet people and you know, if Zoom did not moderate it would turn into that. It would be that exact same problem and you know, no platform is going to be perfect. Sometimes they might intentionally keep up something that is illegal. And that is not good. But it is a lot better than killing every single platform. That is trying really hard to do the right thing.

Juliette: Can you tell us about the probability that section 230 will be repealed and kind of who want mean you kind of touched on this but who is pushing it and like what the chances that it will pass in the house, the Senate, and then be signed by the president.

Shoshana: So I do not think it will be repealed but I do think there could be big changes. I am not totally sure the likelihood. Right now, I am just, I am not sure looking at the bills in Congress right now. So I go back and forth on it not to say I am like, I think it will be totally safe because there is always risk and it is something that like if advocates stop talking it would just happen. Because there is enough like, you know, there is enough desire to have the political winner who we stuck it to the big companies, which is stupid because it hurts small companies with the least legal resources to deal with lawsuits in the most but I think it is possible you see changes. But the problem is almost every proposal, I think pretty much every proposal even if it did not repeal it, it would functionally repeal it because the reason we have 230 is to protect these people from crazy and silly and harmful lawsuits. So once you reopen the legal floodgates, you know, maybe a guy take maybe a platform takes down some content that very clearly was bad or wrong or violated their standard. All someone has to do is sue and say actually you the law says you can not take down religious content and technically this is religious content because and it goes to court and even if it does not win. It goes to court and you can sue platforms out of existence like that is a real problem.

Lots of other changes to 230 do the same exact thing one way or another and it is dangerous. What will happen is, you know people depending on who wants to kill a platform. All you have to do is flood it with lots of undesirable content illegal content: spam, pornography. So the point is so bad. They have to moderate after choosing not to moderate and then they start moderating they miss some and they are sued for it. Like it is really dangerous. It is a dangerous gameplay with free speech online. And also there is all different kinds of players against it largely people who do not understand the law or who pretend they do not understand the law. A lot of it is all about politics and political winds. And another piece of it is to like media companies like this because if they can kill free speech online and really harm these platforms then they think people are going to go back to traditional news. It is not going to work that way but they see them as competitors. So they want to regulate out their competitors until a credit of a lot of platforms.

You know regulatory capture the thing. A lot of companies like being regulated because it kills their smaller up-and-coming competitors. The platforms though that are going against these new regulatory ideas are actually like protecting freedom and not just themselves in these cases because instead of going to do something that would actually harm like a lot of their competitors. They are protecting freedom online and that is something I do not see very often and it is something that I really, really appreciate because it is the right thing to do morally. It helps everyone. It is good. And you know, I am just I am used to seeing quite a bit more cronyism.

Juliette: That is a good point that it kind of there is. If without it, there such an easy way to completely get rid of a competitor. I did not even think about it like you could just, I mean, I can post anything I want anywhere. But if your competitor can do that and get you in trouble for it done. That is just awful that I do not like that.

Shoshana: No, exactly and that is something that is not talked about very often, but it is something I focus on because it is you know regulations sometimes limit behavior but also they can incentivize certain behavior to like throwing those kinds of roadblocks at one another. You know, there are super complex tax system gives, you know online tax software a lot of business. So there is incentive for those guys to want to keep it. So in addition to the regulatory capture stuff from being self-regulated their stuff like that where it can create new markets but like not good new markets but like bad and anti-freedom markets, you know.

Juliette: Hmm. So let us talk about occupational licensing. I talked to Mercatus Center’s Matt Mitchell about this and it was great. Yeah, he is great. But that is also an issue that you are passionate about and I like your take on it. It is kind of it is the same but it is you focus on different aspects of it that I find interesting. So first, can you remind like me listeners, what occupational licensing is about and what it is?

Shoshana: Yeah totally. All it is when the government says hey before you can get involved in this profession you or perform it for money. Usually for money not always though. You need a license to work from the government. You have to be approved by a semi-government entity. Usually, there is other qualifications and usually, there is only one or two if you are lucky pass to get there. It is not like you can say, “Oh I did this for years and I know all this” in movie-like, “Oh, yeah, here is a license”. They will be like, “No you have to go back to school and do all this and that and this” and then maybe you will get a license and it is riddled with problems.

Juliette: Can you give us some examples of licensing requirements that you find particularly outrageous and kind of very much out there in a negative way.

Shoshana: So my favorite example is always florists not every state licenses everything and Louisiana is the only say that licenses florists. They used to have a physical exam where you had to make a flower arrangement. You were judged by license florists who did not want competitors. So the pass rate for the exam was lower than for the Louisiana bar exam and it is not because being a florist is so much more dangerous on harder than being a lawyer. That one really stuck with me, especially because it was a story that got me into this. Clark Neely who is now at Cato. He used to be at the institute for justice litigated for Sandy Meadows an elderly widow who lived alone. She wanted to work because she had to work after her husband can provide for her after he passed away. She knew floristry. So she tried to become a licensed florist. She kept failing the exam which she should not have had to take anyway. And, she eventually went to work illegally for a grocery. Her clients loved her. She did great, you know, they kept her employed. They could have fired her and they did not. They liked her. Once the government found out she was doing it. They told the grocery, “Fire her or will shut you down” so they had a fire her. So when she died, she was in poverty because government would not let her do something that she knew how to do and that story always stuck with me because of just how unjust it was but there is so many other cases.

I mean nurses are qualified to do lots of things that they are not legally allowed to do because of doctor lobbyist so they can not always practice on their own. They can not, you know, just take care of cases on their own in a lot of states. Pharmacists can not always give vaccines even though it is safe and evidence shows it expands access to care. They can not always prescribe birth control, you know, you have to have a license to be able to give legal advice even if you know law stuff and some and people do not always get lawyers on courts. Depending on the court, you might not have a lawyer and you if your friend knows law and says, “Hey, I’ll represent you” you can not just do that unless he is licensed. And there is so many things in the middle to like hair braiding, hair blow-drying is licensed in many places all kinds of cosmetology. You know, like you said, I have rainbow hair. I bleached and dyed it myself. But if I did it for someone else in any state and they paid me I am doing something illegal, even though I do it for myself. I know how. Even if I am like, “Hey, I do not have a license but you chose me. Like are you okay with this? I am going to do a strand test. I am going to test this do an allergy test. Make sure it works well for you”. I still ca not do it without a license. Even if they do not pay me.

In Arizona a few years ago, there was a guy cutting hair for the homeless, and the cosmetology board crackdown on him. He was going through cosmetology school. They said we told you you could not do this. You need to stop cutting hair for the homeless or you will not ever be licensed. So the governor who I adore, Arizona’s current governor Doug Ducey, yelled at them and he is like what the hell like this guy is a Good Samaritan. He is helping people and you are cracking down on him. Like how dare you so thankfully he protected him. But otherwise this guy would have never gotten a license to cut hair because he was doing it for the homeless. It is horrible stuff like this happens all the time. There is so many sides to the issues too. You know, in a lot of states if you have ever committed a crime it will disqualify you from all kinds of licenses for no reason.

And you know, it is not like, you know, let us say a car someone who sold a car can not work at an auto shop or something. It will be more like in one case in Tennessee. There was a woman who was a prostitute 10 years ago. She is reformed. She wanted to go to school to become a radiologist. Found out she could never become a radiologist because she committed a sex crime even though she was a very different person and it was 10 years ago. It did not matter and even though it was it was human trafficking. It did not matter. It was still a sex crime.

There is a lot of good moral characters, laws too. They basically say if the board does not think you have good moral character, which has no legal definition, you can not get a license and there is no way you are going to know if they think you have good moral character before you go through all the training and all the schooling and waste a lot of your time and money. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so many other issues like licenses do not transfer across state lines. Governor Ducey was also the first to change that statewide by allowing people to transfer their licenses from other states.It is not perfect. There is still some case to be worked out to make it broader. But he was the first to do that. There are licensing compacts in some places but not many and while you know, if you want to move from let us say Kansas to California and you you were a cosmetologist in Kansas you want to do it in California. You would have to have the board send over all your information, all your records. If you are lucky, you can be transferred in . Its sometimes you will have to repeat schooling and it takes a long time. But if you are a police officer, none of that happens. You do not need to prove you are a police officer. Before there is many cases where officers were dishonorably discharged and like, you know, they committed crimes and like it was bad enough that like, they could not be a police officer anymore. Then they just go somewhere else and become police chief. It is a real problem that government holds cosmetologist to a higher standard than police officers and I think the kind of way we do it needs to flip the other way because it just makes no sense. They also require more training to become a cosmetology person than a police officer. So this is I mean, even though I have listed quite a bit here. This is not even like, you know getting through this at all. We are still an inch deep in this mile-deep issue.

Juliette: Yeah, I mean it is there is so much there and I think often like first the moral character proving that you have moral character if there is no legal definition, but also it is up to the board. Something that I constantly have to remind myself, the board is not made up of people who want you to be licensed. It is made up of people who would be competing against you.

Shoshana: Exactly.

Juliette: And so that would they want you to have a license at all. And I do not know. I kind of I look at stuff like this all the time, but I constantly am forgetting that because it just seems so obviously wrong, but that is how it is. And often I mean do see did it and he spoke out against it, which is amazing, but you often do not see any things like that coming from the government. And so if the government is kind of enforcing this system where there are councils and boards that are made up of your competitors. It is kind of incentivizing them. It is giving them the strongest tool to eliminate competition and it seems like it does not really help consumers at all. I mean so kind of talking about cosmetology because you mentioned it and also because you have written a lot about it. It requires at least 750 hours of training but sometimes up to 2,000 hours. That is first that is crazy. That is so much time. And you wrote in the Washington examiner that, “Despite the rigorous training the high barrier to a profession in cosmetology seems to fail to protect consumers. Health violations in salons run rampant “. This is consistent with a lot of academic research that shows that licensing is no way. We are not really, it is just not the way to get better quality services. Can you talk a bit about that?

Shoshana: Yeah, exactly. And there is sometimes lower regulatory barriers that fix an issue like salons just tons and tons of studies show that like the rampant with health issues and like it is not people are like, “Oh well, then you need training to prevent infection”. It is not working. So I would much prefer maybe a short health and safety training and health inspections. I think that is a lot more reasonable and it would solve an actual issue because there is an issue to be solved but then you know licensing is not solving it. You know, it is in the same way restaurants have health inspections and sometimes short bits of training but it is not insurmountable. It is a lot more reasonable so I have no issue with barriers as long as they are solving a problem and actually solving it not just pretending they are at while really just helping, you know, the industry keep competitors out. You know, even with I am fine with doctor licensing. I just want to make sure that every bit of it is about doctor licensing and is not like repetitive or is not helpful because a lot of times, you know, that is something that is really important and people do not think about like the means-ends fit.

You know because there can be constitutional goals of consumer protection, but we have to make sure that is actually happening. Also making sure that boards are comprised of not mostly industry participants can be really, really helpful, you know, because it is like you are saying when it is all just people who are going to compete with the applicants like they are going to keep those applicants out. So there is lots and lots of different reforms where we can still have boards in some cases. I am just not convinced that most of the boards currently need to exist. We license auctioneers, fortune-tellers, and that is just silly. I mean we are saying that these are government-approved fortune-tellers like, “Lord oh my gosh” even with contractors in a lot of cases, you know, we have, we instead of having them license, they could register with the government because there is real concern about them like skipping out of town and people have no recourse of suing that person if it is relevant, but a license does not solve that. Registration could and even though it is still a barrier. It is a lot smaller, a lot more reasonable. So when I think about the stuff, I am always like, “Okay, what is the problem? Is there a problem? Is this working in states where there is not a license? Do all states license it ” and let us see what this looks like in different places and another country sometimes even too.

So that there is a lot we need to fix with this stuff. I mean in most cases like I was saying with training, but there is only a couple of paths to success and to getting that license and a lot of cases that does not account for veteran experience. So people come out of the military and they think, “Oh I was, I you know did electrical work there. I can do it when I get out” but if the board says, ” Oh, well that training does not count or you only did this so you can not get a license. You have to start training over.” that hurts real people who served our country. There is just so much room to change this stuff and to make it better and it is not going to hurt consumers at all. Even if we kept things a little bit over license. They are still endless room for reform, but the industry is will all tell you that I just do not care about consumers and stuff.

Juliette: I feel like it is the opposite of not caring about consumers. I feel like it just puts the power in the hands of the consumers and I just I part of me also thinks it is the real issue with deciding what needs to be licensed because there one state has occupational license thing for florists. But how I want to know what the justification was for that like who decided who said, “Oh, this is a good idea. This is going to make people safer. This is going to really help” or what I am pretty sure. I mean, I have no actual idea. I do not know for sure but I would first believe oh, well, what probably happened was there were some florists and they were like, “Oh, hey government. We actually kind of really need you to put licenses on this because it is just not that safe for the consumers, but we know what we are doing”. That is where my mind goes. I am like that seems like a more reasonable reason why it started. I have no idea why it started but I do not know. Do you have any idea what that justification was at all or how that came about?.

Shoshana: So I forget the origin of the license. A lot of licenses and certain regulations to were just all Jim Crow or just post Jim Crow era stop like that. You know, it was to keep minorities out of business and to like be crappy to people but the reason they kept it when they went to court there. I think it was something like oh, well, what if a bride is carrying her flowers and she falls and then the stem stabs her or what if there is infected dirt, they did not even say infected with what they are just like what if there was infected dirt. And it is BS, it is government lying to keep its power over people that it should not have and that goes back to what we talked about with Willett. He would look at a license like this. And tell it to go to hell and just as he should because it is not. There is no harm being caused in other states. There is no evidence of harm. There is no evidence. This is needed and there is no evidence that government is actually trying to solve a constitutional problem with a constitutional means and he would look at this and say do your right to earn a living as a right. Even the Supreme Court kind of talked about it in the past. It does not protect it as much as other rights what it has and he would say, “Okay, you know, this is an unenumerated, right and we this should not stand”. We need more judges liked him and fewer like the ones who upheld the law after government lied. I mean, it is literally like these go before a court and it is literally like a child the government lying to its parents the court and then the parents cook them on like, oh, I think it was Clark Neely who had this in his book about it. It is like, you know a kids out all night and comes home and the father is like, where were you and she is like, oh, I was out drinking with my friends. He is like no, no, no, you were not there. Where were you, with Grandma. Right? And what were you doing? She is like drinking? No, no, no, you know you were out helping her. Oh, right, right and it is like it is dumb everyone knows it is crap. Everyone knows that you know, the lies are there, but they just go along with it and that is not an accountable representative government. That is really, really corrupt.

Juliette: Really broken. Something that I realized when reading your work was licensing rules get in the way of entering the labor market, but they can also be used by the government to kick you out by revoking your license. So when the government revokes your license to be a cosmetologist under either real or imaginary health violations, it can be a disaster. I tend to think that consumers should be the one to decide but you also raised another issue. In Massachussets, if you default on your student loans, the state can revoke your license to work which is crazy and absolutely counterproductive. So can you explain that a bit and tell us about that law and stuff?

Shoshana: Yeah, there is definitely cases of government revoking licenses for dumber, stupid reasons, and stuff. More of a licensing boards protecting bad members though, but in a lot of states so like in the 90s under the first Bush his Department of Education told states, “Hey, people are not paying back student loans. You know what you should do. Take away their license to work.” like oh my gosh, so he is like, yeah, that will get them and then they will want to repay the license. So I have a policy paper on this and it did work by getting them to take out more loans. So you are hurting poor people when they are dow. People often who come to sickness and just can not repay the loans. It is not like they have money saved somewhere. It is like they really can not do it. And then you are taking away the means by which they would normally make the most money because let us say someone is a cosmetology license. If they lose that license, they might be able to do something else but they are not going to make as much money as they did there because that is their chosen profession. They have all the training in and that they have the expertise in, and knowledge in. It was often used against teachers and nurses the New York Times did a big expose in 2017, I think and thankfully after that brought it to light. I think there were 22 states that had it on the books were down to eight now and I do not think they are using it very much anymore. They realize how harmful this is. We still advocate getting rid of it because it is stupid and horrible and mean and cruel but it goes back to this fines and fees issues where you know government just applies fines and fees and ways that do not solve issues but just kind of kick people while they are down. This is just another example of that and it is just really bad and evil and harmful. I am very against it and it is good to see like it being get, you know, we are getting rid of it. I have been working on this for a long time and some states have just done it on their own after realizing, “Oh crap, this is bad”. But we need the laws of the books. There is been some efforts on the national level with us, Senator Rubio and Senator Warren, so it is cool to see if I partisanship but it is there is all these perverse sides to licensing. It s just sick like the way that we harm people with it instead of saying, “Hey, this is to protect consumers”. We are like, “Hey, you are pouring out, oops, we are just going to take away your license so you can never get back on your feet” . I want people to repay their loans, and the way to do that is to make sure that they can keep their job if they are sick. Once they are back on their feet, they can work, you know, taking making demands on people if they can not fulfill and then never be able to fulfill is not helping anyone.

Juliette: So you mentioned the repeal of those laws which is good. And so to follow then kind of to end on a positive note to this very upsetting topic. It kind of it is so frustrating. Can you can you give us some I do not know some good stuff that has happened on this front and kind of how we have moved in a positive direction towards helping people in that way.

Shoshana: So like I was saying thankfully there has been a ton of repeal of those laws. A lot of states are doing a lot of good justice things and getting rid of those good moral character laws, which is really, really good and I am very happy about that. A lot of states just see it as like something that can get them good attention and I am very glad I want them to see it that way. It is really important because if they are like, “Oh people will like if I do this”. Yeah, like that is exactly how we want politicians to see the issue if they see benefits to doing a policy they are going to do it more and they see that with licensing. So super, super encouraging there. A lot of you universal licensing and recognition all over the country Governor Ducey really set a trend. Biden is for licensing reform Trump was Obama was, that is huge. I do not think I could be wrong, but I do not think Bush ever talked about licensing reformer anyone before him. So it is just we are seeing a lot of really good movement.

It is really great to see, I mean we are expanding nurse’s scope of practice allowing them to practice unilaterally. Expanding what pharmacists can do. It is definitely going in the right direction. There is real slip back. There is new effort to license tough and it stresses me out, but overall we are doing really good. So I am honestly, genuinely like very, very encouraged by all of it. I mean you would be shocked how often members of Congress reach out about it and I am like, “Hey, I love licensing reform. What can I do?” and I am like,” Oh my gosh. Yes, please”. Here The Limited Federal Solutions or when a state lawmaker reaches out or a governor reaches out. They will be like, “Hey, I am going to veto this license or whatever”. I am just like, oh my gosh. Yes, so I am very happy about that.

Juliette: Yeah, that is good, that is inspiring and that makes me happy and hopeful that this is going in a good direction. This is good for people. So to wrap up, finally, what is one thing you believed at one time in your life that you later changed your position on and why?

Shoshana: Oh, there is plenty. I mean, I am trying to think of like the best example of it. I guess Criminal Justice Reform. I mean, I was just a mindless law and order person not to say everyone who is law and order has to be mindless, but I personally was mindless about it. did not really think through everything. And oddly enough, I remember was Sean Hannity who changed my mind because he said, “Hey with the death penalty like, you know if we do put innocent people to jail, sorry, to death like that is a real thing that happens and if even one innocent person dies, that is not worth the death penalty” and I am like, you know what he is right. And Hannity, he is not really the beacon of like wonderfulness anymore. But he changed my mind there and I am glad he did and since then like I have become really, really soft with justice because I see it is not helping people. It is not helping communities. It is not rehabilitating, people are not better for it.

And, if that is the case, we need to like change the system. So there is all kinds of stuff that I would have never seen myself advocating for that. I am like, yeah, whatever we need here to make sure the community is can recover, that they can be in good spots, that people after prison can have lives and we are not you know, I used to think, well, they did a bad thing. They deserve to be punished forever. But I think everyone knows someone who went to prison and is like, well, they are not really a bad person. They just went through a thing but it can not just be the people you know, who are different. You know, that is not how life works and that is okay, but it is just not how life works there. They are much less likely the exception than they are the rule. So I think that is the whole criminal justice thing is I have had my mind changed on it by lots and lots of people.

Juliette: That is really inspiring and you are right when if you know someone who is on to jail, they can not be the exception. They are not the only person who is different and it is a good reminder apart like just in day-to-day life. Yeah, everyone like just because you do not know someone and you know, they have done one bad thing. Does not necessarily mean that there is not a good side to them at all. I do not know. I am inspired by that. Thank you for sharing and thank you so much.

Shoshana: Thank you. One thing I want to leave you with too. It is funny. This is something that I thought about quite a bit after I heard it there is a oddly enough low on order which I do not think is often a good show as far as like representations of like the justice system and how things really work. If there was again, I am going to mess this up like one of the prosecutors like was talking to live and he is like I can not do this job anymore because I see the gray area like live before you I just saw a black and white and no one between and if it now because of you I see color and I see all this middle and I remember thinking about that and thinking how like other people I know have taught me that gray that middle and that rainbow of like different colors between the black and white and people like to have certainty. I am more than anyone like to a fault like certainty, but it is just not how life is

Juliette: Yeah, that is true. That is a good thing to keep in mind. I kind of, I would like there to be a certainty but I do not know. I have started to feel like there is some sort of certainty in knowing that there is no certainty because if there is not certainty for me at least there is not certainty for anybody else.

Shoshana: That is a really good perspective too and not one I had when I was younger. It took me a really long time to accept the gray in all different parts of life. So it is good to get that younger, honestly. I am still working through accepting the gray because I just want certainty but that is not how life works.

Juliette: I have not quite accepted it. But I have I see it. I see it, I acknowledge that it is there. So I would like to thank you for being on my podcast and for all of your insight and I also would like to thank everyone who listens, subscribes, and shares The Great Antidote podcast. If you would like to be on the podcast or have a guest in mind, please feel free to reach out to me at The Great Antidote at cgo.org. Thank you again, Shoshana.

Shoshana: Thank you so much.

CGO scholars and fellows frequently comment on a variety of topics for the popular press. The views expressed therein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Growth and Opportunity or the views of Utah State University.